Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Azhi, the Blacksmith, and the King

We read the story of Kaveh the blacksmith, Zahhak the Azhi, and Jamshid and Fereydun, the two most praised kings of the ancient world (in Iranian mythology).

In Iranian mythology, Jam is the greatest king ever. He is both a king and a priest of Ahura Mazda. He teaches people how to use metals and many other materials, he teaches them how to build houses, he teaches them how to make perfumes and wine, how to mine jewelry, how to sail in the seas and much more. He orders the society and divides people into four classes: the priests, the warriors, the farmers, and the artisans. All the creatures in the world come under his rule. One day, when he is sitting on his throne the divs who serve him raise his throne and as he flies into the sky all his people see him shining brightly and after that he is called Jamshid (shid means "light" in Persian). That day, which was the first day of Spring, was then called Norooz ("new day") and it became the most important celebration of the people. Iranians, and some other nations of the Greater Iran, still celebrate Norooz as their most important celebration --the celebration of the beginning of the new year.

Jamshid had a cup (called Jām-e Jam, "Jam's Cup"), filled with the elixir of immortality, in which he could see everything in the universe. Jamshid's Cup is an important symbol in Persian literature.

Jamshid ruled the world for over three centuries, and during that time there was neither disease nor death in the world, but he was finally corrupted by his pride and hence the Farr (the imperial glory Ahura Mazda gives someone to rule the people) departed from him and so Jamshid fell to Zahhak and was later cut in two and killed by him.

The description of Zahhak (originally Aži Dahāka) slightly differs in the different sources we have, i.e. Avesta and post-Avestan older texts, and Shahnameh. In Avesta, Aži Dahāka is the greatest of the Ažis (dragons) "with three mouths, six eyes, and three heads" (presumably meaning three heads with one mouth and two eyes each). He is demonic although his other characteristics match those of a human being. Shahnameh, and many post-Avestan texts, identify him as an Arab (or at least of Semitic origin) who becomes under influence of Ahriman. He gains kingly rule after the fall of Jamshid, and although he leads the world a thousand years of misery, his reign was ultimately good since had he not become the king, the rule would have been taken by the immortal demon Xešm, and so evil would have ruled upon earth until the end of the world.

Zahhak was finally defeated by Fereydūn, a descendant of Jamshid, who took him into the mountains of Alborz and chained him up on top of Damavand where he will live until the end of the world. It is said that at the end of the world, Zahak manages to free himself and starts to destroy the world but before he can do that, Garshasp the ancient hero who killed the other dragons will wake up from death, slay him as the last living dragon and save the two thirds of the world that Zahhak has not devoured.

But Shahnameh also speaks of another figure: Kaveh. Kaveh is a unique character in Iranian mythology because he is an ordinary person, unlike most other heroes. He is brave enough to stand before the most feared Azhi and complain from him, brave enough not to sign a testimony even the highest ranking officials do not dare not to sign, brave enough to call the name of the Azhi's enemy in the public. So much brave that Zahhak himself admits (as Ferdowsi says in Shahnameh) "when Kaveh came in, as I heard his voice, it seemed to me that a wall of iron rose between us." Probably Kaveh is a symbol of the people who helped Fereydun, for although it was Fereydun who chained Zahhak up in Alborz, his army of people who accompanied him to the capital made Zahhak fear so much that he fled. If Fereydun was the key to freedom, then Kaveh (and the people he symbolizes) turned that key in the door.

The rise of Kaveh was like a spark in the darkness; a spark that set fire to a crowd. His flag, the leather apron he put on the spear, became a symbol of Fereydun and the Iranian Empire until the fall of the Sassanid dynasty during the Arab invasion when Arabs torn it into pieces (in fact, the history doubts that the real imperial flag was Kaveh's flag, and probably it was another one whose name was similar to Kaveh's, but it's no different for in fiction and mythology we are considering the world in another stage of imagination, as J.R.R. Tolkien puts it in one of his interviews).

The last word is that the above picture shows the statue of Kaveh in Esfahan. For years the Islamists have fought building statues since Islam is against building statues or paintig pictures of people. It seems that they have lost the war, although it took many statues destroyed to achieve that, for now there are many beautiful statues in Esfahan (as well as in other cities).

No comments: